Let’s Talk Relationships: Breaking up is hard to do: These tools can help it feel easier


For the Gazette

Published: 05-03-2024 1:49 PM

All of us have probably decided to end a relationship at some point in our lives, as well as having been in a relationship where we were broken up with.

A breakup, separation, or divorce is a pivotal and tender time in one’s life. I’d like to shed some light on common reasons and ways that people break up, from my professional observations, and to share some ideas about how to cope with, and learn from, the experience.

■Breakups generally occur after one or both partners have been unhappy for a time, having had no success with mending the hurts, ruptures and pain. Resentment builds, the relationship has deadened, hearts have closed, and there is a loss of hope and motivation to work on saving the relationship.

■An affair — or affairs — creates an enormous breakdown in the relationship. Although I have worked successfully with many couples to heal their relationship after an affair, some do choose to part ways.

■Regardless of any neglect or abuse within a relationship, a partner is only able to leave when they are ready. The moment that someone is ready can vary widely. We might know someone who puts up with behaviors that we, ourselves, could never put up with.

■Partners sometimes grow apart. For example, after being in a monogamous marriage, one partner might want to explore polyamory. The other cannot go along with it and discontinues the relationship.

■Breakups can happen prematurely when there is no knowledge about or interest in getting help and guidance. For example, having healthy conversations about each other’s feelings and needs, with kindness, is what healthy and enduring relationships are made of. Learning how to do this through couples therapy, retreats, or online programs are options that often result in turning things around.

■Breaking up often does not happen gracefully and respectfully. Anger, resentment, and criticism add more hurt to an already painful situation. Thoughtfully ending a relationship with integrity, kindness and respect, creates a less traumatizing experience.

■Addictions such as alcohol or drug misuse (including cannabis) are common causes of breakups. Addictions can interfere with every aspect of intimate relationships.

As painful as it is when the partner who is broken up with wishes to stay together, it usually ends up actually working out for this partner in the end.

What does a healthy recovery from a breakup look like?

Hard as it might be to imagine finding peace after a breakup, in time, it can be found. The following questions that promote self-inquiry can lead you there. When equipped with self-knowledge, we will naturally feel empowered to move forward in our lives in a more positive and hopeful way.

1) What were some unhealthy behaviors I fell into in this relationship? We often focus on our ex-partner’s wrong-doings, and how badly and unfairly they treated us. While that may indeed be true, it will empower us much more if we pay attention to how we handled ourselves in the relationship. We can ask ourselves: “How did I handle my distress in this relationship? Did I blame, shame, judge or criticize my partner? What behaviors of mine originated in my family of origin?”

2) What can I do differently in the future? Being clear about how we want to grow into healthier ways of relating will go a long way. Examples include: “I will advocate for myself and speak up. I will not hide or ignore what really matters to me.”

3) Can I allow myself to experience all of the emotions that come up? It’s perfectly normal to feel a wide range of emotions, including sadness, resentment, jealousy, regret and relief, to name a few. We may wish to avoid such painful emotions. Ideally, healing would include experiencing them all.

4) Who are some people in my life that I can reach out to? It’s important not to feel alone. Connecting with trustworthy people can help us vent and be soothed.

5) Can I live with uncertainty about my future? Uncertainty is a part of life, as the reality of our everyday existence is that things change. When faced with situations that may initially throw us, we can find that we actually do land on our feet. This can strengthen our self-confidence that indeed, we can get through tough stuff. A related question is: “Even in the throes of pain and uncertainty, can I still cultivate faith and optimism for my life?”

6) How can I take good care of myself? Practicing self-care may not feel easy when we are feeling down, but clearly it is a good time to make sure our basic needs are met, such as getting good sleep, drinking water throughout the day to stay hydrated, eating regular, healthy meals, and not using substances to dampen or avoid difficult feelings. If you find yourself leaning toward unhealthy usage of alcohol or drugs, seek professional help to find healthier ways to get through this time.

7) What is most important to me in a relationship? Thinking through what is imperative to have in a future relationship will impact how we make choices when we are ready to consider being in another relationship. Knowing our priorities and deal-breakers can help us avoid instability, chaos, and crisis in the future.

8) What have I gained from this relationship? When a relationship does not work out, instead of thinking time was wasted, we can see how the relationship was still a gain by appreciating the ways it enriched our lives.

I am cheering you on to acknowledge that it is possible to approach a breakup in a healthy, positive way. If you are going through a breakup, I hope the tips above are helpful in getting through any turmoil and finding your way back to your wonderful, resilient self.

Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with NonViolent Communication which serve as the foundation of her work as a Relationship Coach. For more information visit her website at www.coachingbyamy.com.